I haven’t written nearly as much as I had intended to about our sabbatical. I guess part of the reason is that there was so much that was shaping that it’s hard to sit and write it out. Also, I have hesitated to say, “I have learned or changed…” until I can see how much I have really learned and changed. And like always, I am only now realizing some of what God taught us now that I can look back a bit. Fortunately, I have had some really good reflection opportunities lately and I wanted to share a tiny bit about one aspect of my sabbatical experience.
I think one reason for my sabbatical was DISCIPLINE. Now, being that I am offline and have no dictionary as I write this, I don’t know what the dictionary definition of discipline is. But I would define it as doing something that is good for you and teaches you something. Often, it doesn’t feel good or you don’t want to do it. Sometimes, it is imposed on you. But in each case, it involves doing something that in intended to have positive effects.
It takes discipline to practice basketball lay-ups every day. They stop being fun after a while, but they are an important skill to master. It takes discipline to NOT eat that second piece of chocolate cake. Why do you do it? Because you want the good results of not doing it. You get my point. Doing something that is good for you. Now, in all the examples I can think of, the joy doesn’t come in the discipline of the thing, but in the result of it. Wondering if you can think of a scenario where the disciplined part is its own reward, rather than what occurs as a result? I mean, being a disciple of Jesus (intentionally learning from him) seems pretty good. Except the “you will be persecuted” and “you must die” parts that he promised… And PLEASE don’t get me wrong – I am NOT saying that something MUST be bad/hard/unpleasant to be good for you.
Discipline, of course, just seems so negative. I can think of three reasons for this. First, we associate it with the hard things that must be done to achieve something we want. It’s the “must.” And don’t we all dislike being obligated to anything these days? Second, in the midst of discipline, we often lose sight of (or don’t know/understand) the purpose. And then it can seem pretty bad. Why am I doing this again??? Third, we often think PUNISHMENT when we hear discipline. “We had to discipline our son for saying that.” Again, I am not a linguist and I don’t have my dictionary, but I think the difference between these two is that punishment isn’t necessary intended to have positive affects. It is intended to show you that you have something wrong. Theoretically then, the same action could be a matter of either discipline or punishment, depending on its intention. Fine line, I know. Were things like the Exodus and Exile in Scripture matters of punishment or discipline (or both) – probably depends on who you ask.
I think one reason for my sabbatical was discipline. It was meant for my good. Honestly, I went back and forth on whether I was enjoying the time. I questioned what God was doing. And like I said, I still don’t know all that God was teaching me or wanting me to experience. But I accept that it was for my good. God knows what is best for me and I am thankful. And I thank God for what is different in my life as a result. Negative perceptions that are changed/ing, relational patterns that are improved/ing, renewed passions, better understandings. Not perfect. Not done. But restored. From discipline.
I can also say that one significant question for me during my sabbatical was: will I do what I need to do – what God asks – even though there aren’t job or relational requirements to do so? In other words, will I do the right thing just because? This doesn’t mean not taking input. Indeed, it means CHOOSING to listen instead of having to. The working out of this was discipline in and of itself. And now that we are back in South Africa and moving into a new season of life and ministry, I am so thankful for having to process that question. Because we are listening to God as we submerge into this new place and pretty much have to do the right things, and lots of hard work, without job or relational requirements telling us what to do! Not perfect on this one. But I am glad that God stretched that muscle (and dealt with a lot of other related issues) with we were in California so that I can be more the person He wants me to be now.
The discipline NOW is to continue with the good things He was working on with me. I haven’t arrived. Still lots of learning and practicing. But I thank God that I am becoming more and more the person He has designed me to be in the process. This is indeed something good for me, with the ultimate in positive effects.